Parents, Y-1 discuss COVID response

Approximately 50 parents attended a special meeting of the Yuma School District-1 Board of Education, held last Thursday night in the Yuma High School auditorium.
The meeting provided a forum for the public to comment on the district’s COVID-19 response. All five board members were in attendance — President Dan Ross, Thomas Holtorf, Kim Langley, Lindsey Galles and Duane Brown.
The board did take action on one motion before the meeting was over, voting 4-1 in favor of the seventh- and eighth-graders to play together for the junior high football season, which begins today against Holyoke. “Cohorting” will continue as much as possible besides the football team. Brown cast the dissenting vote.
Parents had pointed out earlier in the meeting that all four grades in high school combine for the sports teams.
Superintendent Dianna Chrisman said combining the grades for football can be done, but everyone needs to realize that if a student/athlete tests positive, it is a possibility students in both grades would have to quarantine. (Because of cohorting, the eighth grade was able to stay in school last month while the seventh grade went on remote learning for two weeks.)
The lengthy conversation covered mask wearing, who is making these decisions, communication from the district to the public, cohorting, more students going on the down list, allowing junior high kids to get together for sports, and why Yuma-1 is being stricter than neighboring districts, as well as neighboring states.
Dave Sheffield, a parent, teacher and coach, was the first to speak. He told the board his son was excited to finally get to play junior high football, but was disappointed with cohorting ruining the season. He said Wray, Holyoke and Burlington all were combining their grades. He also advocated for open gyms in the high school to start again, noting other schools are getting to do weightroom workouts.
Jeremiah Lungwitz encouraged the district to stand up to the Northeast Colorado Health Department.
Sarah Day said she was frustrated with the communication to parents, students and staff. She asked what is the latest mandate, and what is the NCHD saying? She also noted that if masks work, why did so many Yuma students have to go on quarantine? “If masks work, we shouldn’t be on quarantine.”
Keith Daugherty touched on the need for commonsense. He said there are issues involving students not being able to use the bathroom because of COVID restrictions. “You shouldn’t have to tell the teacher why you have to use the bathroom.
He also said there are inconsistencies involving free speech. He said he was told students at YMS cannot wear Trump masks, but students can sit for the Pledge of Allegiance. He said both are political, and both should be allowed or restricted. He said teachers should not be putting their political beliefs on the students.
Jen Roth told the board the students have done everything they are supposed to, but don’t get anything in return, noting that a nearby school gets to have a Homecoming but Yuma doesn’t.
“The kids deserve better than what they’re getting,” she said.
Ron Blach asked who makes the mask rules, whose “butt do we need to chew.” He said a student spends only one year as a senior. He noted a neighboring state is doing fine with less restrictions, so maybe the NCHD should go talk to them.
Elle Roth, a junior at YHS, told the board that online schooling is difficult and grades are going lower. She encouraged the district to figure out how to stay in school. “It’s not a lot of fun,” she said.
It was encouraged that mental health help be available as so many students at YMS are on the downlist.
A mother said other schools in the area are doing the all they can to make things as normal as possible. She said her kids complain of headaches after having to wear a mask all day at school.
A school staffer voiced frustration at the students having to wear masks outside. She said the staff is feeling exhausted, and is going to get burned out.
Jackie Lungwitz also preached commonsense, saying the numbers don’t hold up with what the students are being put through.
“COVID is real but we can’t stop life because of the governor,” she said, “…Don’t live in fear; that’s what we’re teaching our kids right now.”
Parent Zach Wall, whose children are all young, said what strikes him is it is hard for him to lead by example because he doesn’t like being forced to wear a mask, or be told to do so. He also brought up an issue about washing hands, the availability of hand sanitizer.
Chrisman said she agreed with much that had been said, and has pushed back with certain aspects of the mask order. She explained there are three agencies involved — the Governor’s office, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the NCHD.
She further explained the board is at risk for “willful liability” if in direct defiance of orders as the school district insurance will not cover that if it were to come up.
Chrisman did say the state now is allowing more latitude with who has to be quarantined if a positive case comes up.
Ross asked why other districts are not forcing the wearing of masks. Chrisman said to ask them. “All we know is we are complying with legal requests,” she said, adding the district is trying to find compromises.
Chrisman explained that cohorting minimizes exposure, adding it is recommended, not required. However, she added that more students will be subject to quarantine if they don’t cohort, which helps control exposure circles.
“The goal is to keep kids in school,” she said. “If the goal is to make things more normal, then we run a higher risk.”
Ross said he believes allowing the junior high grades to play football together will help drive down the number of students on the downlist. Chrisman said she agrees it is great to get them together, but again stressed it increases the risk.
“There’s truly no correct answer for every person,” she said.
Ross said that he personally was tired of living in fear.
The rules for quarantining were explained. If one is in a classroom with someone who tests positive, or within six feet of someone for 15 minutes, that is considered close contact.
Galles said she wears a mask out of respect for others, not because she thinks they work. She said she understands the frustration as the information from the NCHD is confusing.
Galles said the teachers are doing an amazing job, and the administration is working hard, spending a lot of time and effort to do the best they can for students and staff.
“They can’t make everyone happy but they’re trying to do all they can for the kids,” she said.
Chrisman told the crowd that anyone can call her at the office with questions or issues, and she will try to get clarifications as much as possible.
Ross suggested people call the NCHD for clarification of the mask rules, and write down the names of those you talk to, particularly if you get different answers.
It was brought up again about the lack of hand sanitizer. Chrisman said the district spent $130,000 on cleaning supplies, when it is usually about $50,000, and the district is doing extensive custodian and sanitation work.
As to living in fear, Chrisman said that in regards to the district’s actions, “It’s not a matter of fear, but rather a professional responsibility we have to meet.”